Science and Technology News

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

IT Plays Central Role in Transcom’s New Strategy

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., Nov. 13, 2012 – Shaping itself for the future as it implements its new five-year strategy, U.S. Transportation Command is maximizing what one of its senior officers calls the ultimate enabler: information technology.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Personnel assigned to the 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center coordinate with aircrews, maintenance personnel and aerial porters around the world from the unit’s operations floor at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. The center makes global reach a reality by transforming requirements into effective missions through the planning, tasking and execution of a fleet of more than 1,200 mobility aircraft in support of combat delivery and strategic airlift, air refueling and aeromedical evacuation operations around the world. DOD photo by Robert Fehringer

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Information technology is the driver that keeps the wheels of Transcom’s global transportation and distribution enterprise turning, Air Force Brig. Gen. Gregory J. Touhill, the command’s director of command, control, communications and cyber systems, told American Forces Press Service.
“There is not one single organization in this command or its components that does not rely on information technology,” said Touhill, Transcom’s self-described “head geek.”

“We share a lot of information in order to choreograph the many movements that Transcom makes ... on behalf of the nation,” Touhill said. “And it is all reliant on getting the right information to the right people at the right time, in a trusted manner.

“In fact,” Touhill added, “some would argue that information technology provides the fuel for this command.”

Among those proponents is Air Force Gen. William M. Fraser III, Transcom’s commander. He puts such a high emphasis on IT’s value to the mission that he made IT management excellence one of the four pillars in his new strategy.

“As we look at our strategy of how we are going to get better to meet the demands of the future, it is all built upon a foundation of having solid information so that decision makers have the right information to make informed and valued decisions in a spirit of collaboration and partnership,” Touhill said.

That requires rethinking the whole way Transcom approaches information technology. One of the first steps is evaluating the 77 major IT systems Transcom’s headquarters and its components currently operate across 16 discrete networks, to the tune of about $500 million a year.

“We are working as a team with our components and within the headquarters here, looking at opportunities to consolidate where it makes sense, retire some old and inefficient systems and perhaps birth some new capabilities using some of the latest techniques and technologies,” Touhill said.

Some of the systems being evaluated, like a logistics system from 1972 used to maintain Transcom’s inventories, still perform beautifully, he said. But many could work just as well -- even better and more securely -- if they were migrated onto platforms that also cost less to operate and maintain.

They key to the whole initiative, Touhill said, is standardization: standardized views, information exchanges, architectures and delivery.

Transcom relies on multiple portals to exchange vast quantities of information with customers and the components and commercial partners that provide the aircraft, ships, ground vehicles and other assets that support the mission.

Adopting a standard language -- most likely, the universally recognized Extensible Markup Language, or XML -- would reduce maintenance costs while streamlining the process. Touhill said it also would better position Transcom to leverage industry-wide best practices.

Similarly, Touhill wants to introduce more Web technologies to replace the service-oriented architectures used to link these multiple communications systems. This could dramatically reduce costs, he said, eliminating the need to maintain interfaces that cost about $100,000 apiece to maintain each year.

Air Mobility Command, Transcom’s air component, already has started adopting this practice, one that’s been proven across the business world, Touhill noted.

Meanwhile, Transcom is exploring ways to standardize the way it delivers information, eliminating the need for separate infrastructure and support stovepipes for individual IT systems.

“Technology has evolved to the point now where we can host multiple systems and multiple capabilities on a reduced number of platforms,” Touhill said. “Furthermore, we believe that we will get greater operational effectiveness by putting our development, test and production environments in synchronization with each other, and virtualizing across the entire enterprise.”

In simple terms, that means using the same systems throughout its processes. It also involves running multiple operating systems at the same time using a single central processing unit -- a cornerstone of the Defense Department’s Joint Information Environment initiative, which is designed to enhance information-sharing.
“We are not going to go out and buy a separate computer for every single system,” Touhill said. “Rather, technology allows us to host multiple applications and systems, all on the same box.”

One of the challenges in implementing Transcom’s five-year strategy is that many of the best solutions haven’t yet been invented. So any plan for moving forward has to be flexible enough to incorporate new technologies as they are introduced.
“We are not going to go chase the latest fad just because it is out there,” Touhill said. “We certainly will be monitoring all the new and latest technologies, but we are only going to invest in those that can demonstrate great value to the mission.”

“And ultimately, that is what IT is all about: providing value -- to the mission, to the taxpayer and to our customers,” he said. “There is great power in the capabilities that information technology provides.”

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